December 31, 2013 in Nation/World

Explosive oil train collision in North Dakota triggers evacuation

Matt Pearce Los Angeles Times
Associated Press photo

A fireball goes up at the site of an oil train derailment Monday afternoon near Casselton, N.D. Several explosions were reported as some cars on the mile-long train caught fire.
(Full-size photo)


About 75 people showed up for a hearing in Spokane earlier this month on a proposal to ship North Dakota crude oil through Spokane by train. Most of those who attended were opposed to the project, which calls for construction of an oil terminal at the Port of Vancouver that could result in up to four oil trains daily passing through Spokane.

A small town in North Dakota was being partially evacuated Monday evening after a train carrying crude oil collided with another train, setting off a large fire and explosions, according to the local sheriff’s department.

No injuries have been reported, said Sgt. Tara Morris of the Cass County Sheriff’s Office.

Officials received a report in the afternoon of a train derailing about a mile west of Casselton, a city of 2,432 people about 20 miles west of Fargo, Morris said.

At some point, one train collided with another; one of the trains, belonging to the BNSF Railway, was carrying more than 100 cars loaded with crude oil, Morris said.

Steven Forsberg, a spokeswoman for BNSF, said the accident occurred when a grain train derailed on a track parallel to an eastbound crude oil train. The explosions and fire erupted after cars from the grain train struck some of the oil tank cars, he said.

“A fire ensued, and quickly a number of the cars became engulfed,” Morris said.

Local residents and media captured images of large explosions and a pillar of smoke coming out of the flaming wreckage.

Morris said firefighters had managed to detach 50 of the 104 cars but had to leave the rest.

“They can’t fight the fire due to the extremes of the explosion and high temperatures,” Morris said. “They’re just letting the oil burn off at this point.”

She said a “portion” of Casselton was being evacuated as of Monday evening, adding, “There’s potential for the entire city to be evacuated, and those decisions are being made right now.”

The North Dakota crash is the fourth serious accident involving trains hauling crude in North America this year.

In July, an unattended train with 72 tank cars carrying crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken shale fields rolled downhill and set off a major explosion in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing more than 40 people.

Two other accidents followed shortly after, though neither involved fatalities.

The accidents have put a spotlight on the growing reliance on rail to move surging oil production from new fields in Texas, North Dakota and Colorado.

U.S. railroads are moving 25 times more crude than they did in 2008, often in trains with more than 100 tank cars that each carry 30,000 gallons.

In the aftermath of the accidents, the Federal Railroad Administration issued an emergency order that tightened operating rules on carrying crude, prohibiting operators from leaving crude trains unattended without getting prior regulatory approval. Separately, the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration began steps to improve the safety of tank cars.

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